With signs waving and horns honking from passing cars, Kokomo teachers and their supporters gathered Thursday as contract negotiations waged on for the second day.
The crowd positioned themselves outside the Kokomo School Corporation administrative building on South Washington Street equipped with areas to make signs and a food station serving up burgers and hot dogs.
Kokomo Teachers Association (KTA) President Nicole Fain Mundy spent much of the evening inside the administration building negotiating a new union contract.
She said the way the state funds public education continues to be a major issues for local teachers.
“The biggest problem comes from finances and the financial picture of our school and that’s a state problem not necessarily an administration problem here,” she said. “Schools are underfunded period. I know how hard all teachers work and this state needs to recognize it and fund our schools.”
Rising insurance costs is the elephant in the negotiation room.
Cost for teachers rose 3% in 2019 and another 3% increase was just approved for 2020.
The increases have basically erased any pay raises the teachers were given.
“Realistically when insurance continues to go up like that and our salaries don’t go up basically our raises get eaten up with insurance costs,” Fain Mundy said.
KTA Interim Secretary Lee Fritz said it’s important teachers here locally and across the state fight for better salaries since pay in Indiana is lower than surrounding states.
“We are supporting all of our educators,” Fritz said. “We don’t know how much money they have to work with...but in reality none of us that are working educators make enough. We need our school board as well as the state to see that and understand that we are working two, three, four jobs to make it.
KTA Interim Treasurer Katlynn Craig is concerned if contracts don’t improve there will be issues attracting and retaining teachers.
“The one thing we had going for us was that we had very comparable health insurance…we have a great clinic that we can go to for free as part of our insurance plan,” she said. “But when you raise our costs 3%, when you raise deductibles and out of pocket expenses…we’re going to lose new teachers. We’re not going to attract them, they’re not going to stay and we’re going to be a stepping stone for a couple of years then they will go somewhere else.”
Fain Mundy said she was happy, and somewhat surprised, to see how big the community support was.
“I really didn’t know what to expect because we’ve never done anything like this before, and I think what we’re hearing today tells us we do have the support and the community does back what we’re doing,” she said.
A request for comment from Kokomo schools went unanswered.
As of 8 p.m. Thursday no resolution in contract talks had been reached.